Feb 9 2012
by Lisa Kersey
When Dorothy was lost in unfamiliar territory, the Wizard helped her find her way home. Today, hospitals find themselves in a similar place – but not for the reasons you might think.
Yes, hospitals have room for improvement when it comes to quality and patient safety. They have opportunities to decrease waste and duplication to help decrease the cost of healthcare. And it’s also true that hospitals need to improve the overall patient experience. But those things alone will not differentiate one hospital from another; health reform is requiring all hospitals to improve in these areas and upping the ante on incentives for achieving them.
So, how will hospitals differentiate themselves in the new world order of healthcare? No offense to our brethren in the Sunflower State, but we’re not in Kansas anymore! The rules of the game have changed, and you’d better change your approach, if you want to attract and retain physicians, nurses, clinical staff and, yes, patients.
Will differentiation matter? You can bet your little red shoes it will. While there is unprecedented consolidation in healthcare and while bundled payments will force unfamiliar alignments, people will still have a choice of where they seek services. If there were a Wizard along the yellow brick road of health reform, here’s what I think he’d have to say to hospitals to help them differentiate themselves:
1. Stop talking about yourself! While awareness will always play a role in hospital public relations and marketing, the conversation needs to change. At its most fundamental, healthcare is about people and helping them to be as healthy as they can be. So quit talking about your technology and your awards. Besides, no one’s really listening anyway. And it’s not a monologue. People want to have a conversation about their health.
2. Engage with people! Don’t be so distracted dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s in your new electronic health record that you forget what your mother taught you. Make eye contact. Say please and thank you. Introduce yourself. Listen more, talk less. Anticipate the needs of your patients and their families. Say you’re sorry – even if it’s just for how they feel, and not because you did anything wrong.
3. Embrace your new surroundings! While there are a lot of unknowns, there are also a lot of new tools that can help you build relationships with your patients and community –use them. Start with what you can control –your own website, your social media properties, and leveraging mobile technology.
4. Don’t budget tactics, budget strategy! If your budget includes line items for print, broadcast, radio, advertising and PR, then you are destined to be led by tactics rather than by a strategy. The name of the game is integration. So, depending what your hospital may need, consider budgeting for things like reputation/brand building, service growth and strategic communications (which would include things like change communication, crisis communication, etc.). This will help to link your tactics to measurable objectives so that you can evaluate whether or not your approach was successful.
And the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow…
5. Focus on the “health” in healthcare! Talking about sick care is just not that pleasant. And unless you’re one of the 25 percent of people actually looking for a doctor or hospital service at any given time, you don’t care anyway. So why not engage with 100 percent of people in your community by talking about something that’s relevant to them – their health. What can you do to educate them in new ways? How can you help keep people out of your hospital? How can you use new media to connect people with information and other people who share their interests or concerns? What can you offer that will cause people to associate your hospital with holistic care, with wellness?
There are several health systems that have found the Wizard. They have connected with people and embraced the health in healthcare: the Mayo Clinic, Henry Ford, Intermountain Healthcare and Inova. These systems understand the value in making the 180 degree shift, and they have made a purposeful investment in wellness. Now before you go clicking your heels together and tell me that you’re going back to Kansas because you think wellness is reserved only for the few, listen. No matter the size, location or ownership of your hospital, you have the opportunity to focus on the health in healthcare. But don’t revert to tactics like advertising about how you care about wellness; instead, develop and implement a strategy that demonstrates it to your patients and to your community.
Are you off to see the Wizard?